Islam, the faith system often erroneously perceived to be peculiar to the peoples of the the far north and west of Nigeria, has had an interesting history in Igboland, where it commands a minute but fledgling community of adherents. Although it is true that southeastern Nigeria, as a religious theatre, was dominated by Christian missionaries and evangelists in the 19th and 20th centuries, comprehension of the often-unspoken permeation of Islam into this region is essential to understanding the region’s modern trends.
The origins of Islam into Ala Igbo (Igboland) can be traced as far back as the 18th and 19th centuries to the region around the ancient town of Nsukka, which sits on the northern fringes of the Igbo-speaking world. Nsukka, being on the extreme of Igboland, sits on an important cultural crossroads and trade network that links the Igala, Idoma, and Nupe peoples of the central Nigerian savannah with the Igbo of the forested south, and so it became a center of confluence for cultural and religious influences, ideas, and customs.
In the 18th and 19th centuries, the belligerent Igala people, under the leadership of their Attah (king), conquered Nsukka and its environs and instilled much of their culture into the societies of the local people and facilitated the immigration of Igala and Nupe Muslim traders into the neighboring areas. However, despite the presence of these early Igala and Nupe Muslims, the new religion was not popular.
Around 1960, a miracle occurred in Afikpo (in modern-day Ebonyi State), a town far from Nsukka, on the eastern frontier of Igboland. “In 1957 a son of Anohia, Okpani Egwani, who had been abroad for many years suddenly returned. No one had heard from him for a long time. It is said that he was thought dead and that burial services had been performed for him. He returned a Moslem, with a small following of Moslem strangers from the north, in a number of automobiles. He had changed his name to Alhaji Ibrahim” (excerpted from “The Nigerian Nation and Religion: (Interfaith Series, Vol. I.)” by Hyacinth Kalu). (Please read the continuation in the next post)#igbohistory